Proper 27, Year C
Luke 20:27-38 - link to NRSV text
Those theological innovators! They think they're being prophetic as they rewrite the canon of scripture. That's the root cause, but look at the results -- look at what this does to marriage -- if they're right, one woman is going to be living with seven husbands! They may have been successful in taking over our assembly, but the marriage question will show the people just where their agenda leads. That's gonna be the one to trip them up.
I'm talking, of course, about the controversy between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and about this Sunday's gospel, which just might be the earliest recorded use of marriage as a wedge issue to trip up leaders.
The Pharisees believed that God revealed God's will not just in the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), but continued to speak to and through God's people in their changing circumstances. Their theological innovations included adding new books, like Isaiah and Daniel, to the list of what was considered authoritative. They also came up with new teachings. They looked at what was happening around them in the culture -- the righteous suffered, and the wicked seemed to prosper -- and they knew that a just God wouldn't let this be the final word. They concluded that God would raise the dead. The righteous would receive their reward, and perhaps the wicked would be raised to receive punishment.
The Sadducees were horrified, and were probably even more horrified as the Pharisees became more popular with the people and gained power -- even power in the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. So when they saw that Jesus of Nazareth, this charismatic rabbi who was attracting so much attention from Galilee to Jerusalem, was teaching as the Pharisees did about scripture (Jesus seemed to count the book of Isaiah as having canonical authority) and even about the resurrection, they decided they had to confront him.
They went for the political jugular -- they went for family values. It's a natural choice, because everybody knows that family -- marriage and parenthood -- is the bedrock of society, the human institution with the clearest eternal importance. The Pharisees knew that -- even they couldn't deny that one of God's first commandments to humanity was to "be fruitful and multiply." Heck, even the Romans knew it -- central to the emperor Augustus' domestic policy was that marriage and childbearing should be encouraged to repopulate an empire decimated by war. The Sadducees had Jesus right where they wanted him.
Or so they thought. Jesus offers an interpretation of a passage from the Pentateuch (an innovative interpretation, to be sure) to back up his view that God will indeed raise the righteous at the end of the age. That's not all, though. Far from trying to downplay the radical edge of his theology, Jesus comes right out with its most radical edge:
Marriage is not of eternal importance. It does not define who you are in God's eyes.
It's still radical to say. When women get married, most still change their names. Couples planning their wedding speak of the day as "the most important day in our lives." Anthropologists have a label -- "redemptive media" -- for the things one must do in a given culture to be considered a good and successful in a culture, and marriage (alongside things like getting a college degree, having children, and owning a home) is a powerful redemptive medium in our culture. Think about it -- what chance would a potential candidate for president have if he (or worse yet, she!) had never been married? In our culture, marriage plays a huge role in defining who's trustworthy, who's successful, who's blessed.
But not so for Jesus. "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage."
That's heavy, heavy stuff. Where's the Good News in this?
For those who are single, I'd start with this. Whether you're single by choice or not, whether you think you have a vocation to singleness or you're hoping to marry, your life -- your real life, your full life, your living into your vocation and experiencing God's abundant blessings -- is not on hold. It's not contingent on finding someone to marry. Your life in Christ is your real life.
Life in Christ is not without loneliness, whether you're single or married. But it's a full life. You were created for love, and love is here. You are not waiting to start a family; you have been set in a community of brothers and sisters in Christ, children of one God. Those of us who grew up in dysfunctional families can find it hard to hear this as good news, but it is. This one's different; it's the place we discover who we really are in Christ, and we learn through mistakes and being forgiven and forgiving others to be who we really are, whom God calls us to be.
For those who are married, I'd start with this: see the above. It pretty much all applies. And then consider that you have the opportunity to see the family you live with as intentional Christian community, given for the same purposes that all communities are given. It's a place where our faults and our gifts provide opportunities for us to learn to forgive and to receive forgiveness with one another, a place where we can learn to pray and question together. As in any place where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name, it's a place where Jesus is present to help us help one another become mature, who we are in Christ.
That's what's of eternal importance. It's the life of the resurrection, and it's available to all.
Thanks be to God!
It is reaffirming to see that someone else is looking at this reading from a different perspective. I have thought about this all week and as I sat down to write my sermon I began to second guess where I wanted to go with this. I wondered if perhaps the personal relationship angle somehow wasn't valid. Now I only wish I had the skills with which to express my ideas on this reading half as well as you do!
Posted by: Lisa Schoonmaker | Nov 9, 2007 3:53:42 PM
I really appreciated the innovate refocusing of the bibilical story that you bring! Having been single several times in my life and having worked with single adults, I know the concern for wholeness in single life to be a very important question. I had never seen the story from this angel but when you think of the implications of Jesus' response, it is a very approprite direction in which to go.
This being the case, one could also say that there are not roles, functions, or relationships that impinge upon the resurrected life save one; our relationship with God and God's faithfulness in this life extended into the next. This is supported by other parables of Jesus. If God is faithful in simple things, then God will be faithful in the complicated vision of eternity. There are no boundaries to the love of God, in this life or the next!
Posted by: Allen Simons | Nov 11, 2007 12:23:04 AM
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